Technology. It's fascinating, but in-car technology isn't always your friend. "Used-car buyers are by nature more frugal and unwilling to shell out extra money for the 'latest and greatest.' This is especially true when considering technology items," says Lyman. "Early adopters pay dearly for the privilege of having the latest technology in their vehicle," he says, and suggests items with limited appeal, like DVD audio, may not earn back any of their up-front cost.
That said, Lyman says some of the latest technology is beginning to show its value on the resale side of the equation. Navigation, once an expensive option, is now surprisingly a more affordable new-car feature, and a desirable used-car feature, too. "The price of navigation is a fraction of what it was 10 years ago when it first emerged in new cars, while the functionality and usability has improved substantially." The inexpensive $795 navigation option on the new 2013 GMC Terrain could return up to half its cost down the road, while systems costing thousands of dollars deliver much less.
Performance parts and aftermarket accessories. You may think a supercharger kit or suspension upgrades will add value, but future buyers may be more concerned with premature wear and tear and possibly, higher upkeep costs. Most aftermarket accessories end up hurting value, Lyman says.
"Think of buying a home with some expensive custom marble countertops in the kitchen," Lyman explains. "The owners sees a beautiful reminder of their trip to southern Italy. All the buyer sees is a countertop that isn't exactly their style and is difficult to maintain."
The 19-inch chromed wheels or high-end stereo that cost upwards of $2,000? "Odds are that what you paid extra for to make your car your own will have little to no value to the used buyer."
Above all, steer clear of add-ons that alter powertrain or safety equipment. A seemingly innocuous $200 engine chip could bring you more power on paper, but could nullify any factory coverage. "Be especially cautious of anything that might void a warranty or prevent a vehicle from certified pre-owned qualification," Lyman advises.
Exterior condition. If you've kept your car in good cosmetic condition, there's not much to worry about. If you wash it with an old sponge and dirty water--or just don't wash it--you could have problems. Buyers look at swirled and scratched paint with prejudice. A good regular wash job for $50 can keep your car in excellent shape--and so can a $200 paint correction and detailing job before you sell. It's also best to correct any dents and dings with a dent-doctor-type service, which can run up to a few hundred dollars.
A last tip? Peel off all your political stickers, honor-student announcements, college logos, Baby on Board signs, license-plate frames, and fish logos before you try to sell. Bland, inoffensive, and shiny sheetmetal panels are your best allies for a quick sale.
Interior condition. A clean, well-kept car wins over buyers from first glance--or smell. If you're a smoker, a dog or cat owner, or if you eat and drink in the car, you'll want to have the car cleaned and detailed before you sell it, to address any of those olfactory issues. An inexpensive set of new rubber floor mats can look much better than stained, torn, and worn factory mats. And for Starbucks' sake, empty all the napkins, cups, and other trash from the gloveboxes and consoles.
Mechanical condition. Service records can be valuable if you're selling your car to a private buyer. The more guesswork you can take out of a car's history, the higher the resale value you can command. Prove it's in great running condition--that includes tires, oil, and battery--and you'll pave the way to a quick sale at a good, fair price.Overall mileage. Mileage is the car world's version of real estate's "location, location, location." You can have a cosmetically perfect 1990 Honda Accord on the block--but with 500,000 miles, few buyers will be interested. Fewer miles usually translates directly into a higher resale value, so keep that in mind when you're planning that once-in-a-lifetime road trip. Maybe that's time for a rental car--and a damage waiver.